Could Aaron Holiday be the steal of the 2018 NBA Draft?

The 2018 NBA Draft is just a couple days away. On Thursday, 60 young men will witness their wildest dreams come true when their names are called in Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. Each year, NBA front office personnel from 30 teams pack into separate rooms and discuss what the best moves for their respective franchises are. While many of those decisions end up paying dividends, there are also some that general managers wish they could get a second crack at. A few “steals” give teams nightmares for passing up on them earlier in the draft. A player that is flying a bit under-the-radar (but less and less by the day) and could fit that description is UCLA’s Aaron Holiday.

Holiday, the younger brother of NBA veterans Jrue and Justin Holiday, is entering the draft following a stellar junior season at UCLA. He was asked to emerge as a leader for a team that lost college studs such as Lonzo Ball and TJ Leaf to the NBA following the conclusion of the 2016-17 season. He delivered. Although his season stat line of 20.3 points, 3.7 boards and 5.8 assists per contest on 46% shooting (49% from deep) was only enough to get him on Sporting News‘ All-American third team, those numbers aren’t to be taken lightly. The 21-year-old managed to lead the Bruins to a 21-12 record, ending in a stunning loss to St. Bonaventure in the First Four of the 2018 NCAA Tournament. The physical and spiritual leader of the team, Holiday became a star before everyone’s eyes.

Mock drafts have Holiday falling to various teams in various spots. ESPN and CBS Sports‘ latest editions have him going to the Utah Jazz at 21. has the PAC-12’s leading scorer from last season landing in Portland three picks later. Do those projections seem a few picks too low for a player with the numbers listed above? If you think so, you likely aren’t alone. That brings about the question: Could Holiday be the steal of the draft?

The Case For

You’ve seen the numbers. 20.3/3.7/5.8 on 46.1% shooting from the field and 48.6% from three speaks for itself. Seeing his PPG total spike by 10 with 11 added minutes per game from his sophomore to junior season, Holiday fully embraced his new role as the team’s starting point guard. He took it and ran. With solid speed and athleticism, Aaron knows how to use his short-range quickness to his advantage. His lack of size (6’1″, 187 pounds) serves as both a blessing and a curse on the offensive side of the ball (we’ll address the negatives in a bit). Playing the game with a chip on his shoulder, Holiday is adept at getting to the rim and finishing with more strength than what would normally be expected from a player with his frame. When combined with a proven shooting touch (47% career three-point shooter in college) and a 6’7″ wingspan, it’s easy to see what makes Holiday a solid talent on offense.

I just threw those in for fun, and also to show a couple examples of Holiday being a facilitator instead of a scorer.

On defense, Holiday’s lack of size, again, contributes to the grit he plays with. His 1.3 steals per game last year show he’s an active defender. Although the level of athleticism at the NBA level will be a step up from college, Holiday’s basketball smarts and work ethic should make the defensive transition a bit easier. Oh yeah, we almost forgot to mention his 6’7″ wingspan, which should play to his advantage moving forward. It also doesn’t hurt that he has two brothers with over a decade (and counting) of combined NBA experience. If you’d like to read a bit more about Holiday’s defensive capabilities and/or limitations, you can do so here and here.

The Case Against

For nearly every good thing you can say about Holiday (outside of shooting), there seems to be a downside to it as well. 5.8 assists per game looks like a solid figure but when factoring in 3.8 turnovers to go alongside it, it’s not nearly as impressive. Holiday’s assist/turnover ratios in the past indicate he’s a bit less careless with the ball, though:

Year Assists Turnovers A/T Ratio
2015-16 127 92 1.38
2016-17 158 87 1.82
2017-18 192 125 1.54

As shown in the chart above, Holiday’s best assist/turnover ratio (by far) came in his sophomore season. If we take into account both his increased workload as a scorer and expectations as a distributor, perhaps we can give him a slight pass in the turnover department.

Not blessed with the size of his brothers Jrue (6’4″, 205 pounds) and Justin (6’6″, 185 pounds), Aaron will have to work very hard in order to stay on the court. Good-but-not-great athleticism is another thing working against him. Holiday’s wingspan certainly helps but a lack of top-end speed, leaping ability and NBA-ready strength could all come back to bite him. It simply isn’t very common that players standing just 6’1″ become stars in the NBA unless they are athletically gifted. For all of these reasons, Holiday does not carry superstar potential. He could turn out to be an above-average player at the next level in the best case, but likely nothing more than that.

The Verdict

Overall, I’m very intrigued by Aaron Holiday’s talent. I firmly believe he could be a starting point guard in the NBA. Whether he’ll max out at being average or if there’s something more in terms of potential, I’m not sure. A current player he reminds me of is Mike Conley: not a great athlete, not flashy, small, but he attacks the rim and shoots well on offense and plays like he’s got something to prove on the defensive end. Conley is generally considered a solid-to-good point guard, which is exactly what I believe Holiday could be. Call me crazy but if I were the Clippers at 12/13, the Suns at 16 or the Spurs at 18, I’d think long and hard about drafting Aaron Holiday.

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